The next step: The journey of a Cyber officer

October 8th, 2020 | News, News and Features
Maj. Mark Lesak provides guidance to 2nd Lt. Graham Webb during his summer internship with the Army Cyber Institute where he worked on integrating radar sensors in a GPS-denied environment. Courtesy Photo

By Maj. Lisa Beum
Army Cyber Institute Public Affairs

WEST POINT, N.Y.—“If I could say one thing to what I’ve learned about the Army, it is to reach out and talk to people,” said 2nd Lt. Graham Webb, newly commissioned cyber officer and two-time intern with the Army Cyber Institute at West Point. Building relationships and making connections is precisely how Webb was able further his personal development and advance his technical skills.
The Army Cyber Institute’s Summer Internship Program is geared toward ROTC cadets, and Webb first heard about SIP through the internship packet that was released to cadets during their junior year of college. He was in the ROTC program at Washington University in St. Louis, studying in a double major of systems engineering and Chinese, and he wanted to branch Military Intelligence.
During the summer internship program in 2019, Webb interned with Dr. Vikram Mittal, associate professor in the Department of Systems Engineering, and studied tactical application of augmented reality and how it would affect small unit tactics, which lead to Mittal publishing a paper that Webb co-authored.
“After SIP, I walked away from the monthlong experience essentially where I thought ‘wow this is awesome,’” Webb said. “I learned what cyber did, the career opportunities, what the branch offered and had a chance to learn more of what the branch provided.”
After SIP, Webb changed his branch preference from military intelligence to cyber.
A year later, Webb commissioned in May  2020 as a cyber officer, but his Basic Officer Leader Course date was not until October. He wondered what he could do to fill this time and improve his personal development.
The ACI SIP was canceled due to COVID-19, but Webb emailed former SIP mentor, Dr. Mittal, to see if anything else was available for ACI.
Mittal then reached out to Maj. Mark Lesak, an ACI researcher and instructor in the Civil and Mechanical Engineering department at West Point, to see if Lesak might be able to accommodate a new internship.
“This whole process was self-initiated by 2nd Lt. Webb,” Lesak said. “I contacted Webb to see how we could make this work. I wanted to know his background, his interests and find out if he even wanted to research in my particular area.”
Lesak had been wanting to continue his research with integrating radar sensors in GPS-denied environments but did not have the time to devote to it; this is where Webb could step in and help enable research for the Army. After working out the administrative portion of making this new internship a reality, Webb was ready for round two of research with ACI.
“I provided him the tools to learn,” Lesak said. “To advance the Army’s body of knowledge, we have to build the bench, build the foundation within our cyber officers.”
Lesak and Webb conducted weekly meetings to help provide guidance and direction for Webb’s research.
For most of the internship, Webb teleworked but did conduct in-person meetings with Lesak where he learned the most from hands-on experience and direct feedback.
“I enjoyed the flexibility and learning environment. Flexibility, because Maj. Lesak gave me set tasks, not hours, so I could mold my work days around other requirements I needed. Within the learning environment, he would give me projects or goals and said ‘Go,’” Webb explained. “He expected me to learn materiel by myself, which I know made progress slower, but I learned so much more through that process, and it was considerably more rewarding when I came out on the other side.”
He continued to say that this internship was a great opportunity to keep his skills sharp, learn all new materiel because a new research focus, explore the cyber branch by making new connections and develop himself during an intern period where not every newly commissioned officer gets this chance.
“What I worked on with Maj. Lesak doesn’t necessarily apply to the 17 series, but what was extremely useful was the learning environment he created,” Webb said. “No matter what branch lieutenants go into, they have to learn on the fly and adapt to their situation and surroundings.”
Webb said the biggest takeaway for him during this internship was the necessity for self-motivation and initiative and furthering his understanding of the problem-solving process.
This new internship was a testing bed to see if it was even feasible, and Maj. Mark Lesak commented that for possible internships in the future, he would like to incorporate concrete deliverables, the scope of the research and a more, clearly defined agenda for lieutenants to understand expectations and requirements.
“It’s incredibly important to build talent,” Lesak said describing why he took on this new internship and hopes it continues. “We can take lessons learned from this research and process, and lieutenants can take what they’ve learned to the force and be a force multiplier. This internship helps shape leaders and contributes to projects larger in scope by conducting research in support of Army or DOD priorities.”